Saturday, November 14, 2015

Recreating Jerusalem in the Holy Land of Lalibela, Ethiopia

Ethiopian Orthodox Priest
Faith is important in Ethiopia, whether it’s Christianity or Islam.  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims over 44% of the country’s population, Evangelical Christians another 19% and Islam about 35%.  Churches and mosques stand in almost every community and it’s often difficult for visitors to distinguish the call to prayer from early morning Orthodox chanting.  Public schools celebrate holidays of both major religions and relations have been generally cordial through recent years.  Yet, it is the ancient orthodox practice that has the strongest grip on the northern part of the country where white clad men and women exhibit their faith throughout the countryside.  And, nowhere was that more prevalent than in Lalibela, to the north of Addis Ababa, in the heart of the beautiful Amhara Plateau.

St. George's Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia
The traditional story of Lalibela’s creation is almost a fairly tale.  A Christian king recognizes his people cannot make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and decides to bring Christianity’s home place to his people.  It is believed that in the 12th century, King Lalibela had a God-inspired dream to recreate the Holy Land in Ethiopia.  Over the next 23 years eleven rock hewn churches were carved below ground by hammer and chisel and given Jerusalem names.  Worshipers could attend churches with holy auras such as House of Mount Sinai or Golgotha.  A stream was even renamed the River Jordan. 

Deacon Muchaw Derebe 
Wearing blue rim sunglasses, enthusiasm and a bright smile, Muchaw Derebe guided us through the wonderland of Lalibela’s stone churches, designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978. As the son of an orthodox priest and a deacon himself, Muchaw offered a unique perspective of his native town – one that had grown tenfold from a village of 2,000 to an emerging tourist destination of 20,000. Despite the increase in visitors, churches are still very much in use offering home parishes to residents of Lalibela. 
Shoes Outside Church in Lalibela

Shoes were removed as we entered each church based on God’s instruction to Moses to take off his shoes when standing on holy ground. Many kiss the outer wall before walking into the initial chanting room where priests pray before services.  Orthodox churches contain strong Jewish roots – men and women stand apart and enter from different sides of the church.  A curtain covers the communion table which will be drawn back for services.  Behind is the Holy of Holies, a site open only to priests and deacons, where the tabot or replica of the Ten Commandments is kept. At all hours a priest is present, available for blessings. 
Prayer Sticks in Lalibela
Occasionally, Muchaw would pick up a drum and chant lightly or insist that we try out a prayer stick, used for support during the long three hour services. 

Some of the churches are still attached to the mountain with the rest free standing.  All require a walk down as well as treks through narrow pathways and tunnels that connect houses of worship.  One building named Bethlehem provides space for priests and deacons to prepare communion bread, later carried through the labyrinth to different churches. Occasional baptismal pools were available and even a pond filled with papyrus, used with other grasses to welcome visitors in the churches – just as Jesus was welcomed in Jerusalem.  It was all highly symbolic and Muchaw could provide the hidden meaning.
Women listening to Scripture on Holy Cross Day
Lalibela, Ethiopia

Drums and Timbrels being played outside
Holy Cross Church, Lalibela Ethiopia
Our visit coincided with Holy Cross Day – a surprise since we had just celebrated that event on September 14 at Holy Cross Episcopal church in Paris. Since the Ethiopian calendar doesn’t correlate with the Gregorian calendar, we celebrated it again.  Muchaw picked us up early and brought us netelas, white cloth worn by women for services.  We approached the Holy Cross church where worshipers stood and sat on the ground above the church.  On the opposite rim, a priest read from the Bible in Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian language and later explained the reading in Amharic, its current language.  Below, a U-shaped gathering of priests and deacons had been chanting outside since 5 a.m. with aid of slow drums and timbrels, tambourine like instruments.  All knew the words by heart and Muchaw couldn’t help but participate in this very biblical setting.

Baptism in Lalibela, Ethiopia
We later happened on to a baptism of a baby girl outside a church in the shelter of a cave opening, attended by women of the family.  The priest blessed a pitcher of water and poured it onto the naked child in a plastic tub, causing a healthy cry. The women sang their high pitched ululations in joy.    After the baby was dried, the priest playfully splashed holy water onto the women and children standing nearby.  The family men did not attend and were apparently at home, preparing for the approaching celebration.

Throughout our time in the Holy Land of Lalibela, we saw few tourists and many locals.  The spiritual life of Orthodox Ethiopia was on full display.  But as more hotels are built and roads newly constructed with Chinese help, visitor numbers will increase.  We can only hope that it can continue to be a site that is astonishing in its construction, beautiful in location and holy in its use.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Eighteen Hours in Dubai via Emirates Airlines

I once had a Dallas friend suggest going to DFW Airport in the mornings just to watch the Emirates Airlines Dubai-DFW flight land.  The airline uses the Airbus A380 for its long distance hauls, the giant of all commercial planes that seems to lumber onto the runway.  It can hold 550 passengers and the wingspan snugly fits into a football field.   I always wondered who flew that exotic route until their fares got cheap and an opportunity beckoned.  For under $900, we booked tickets to Ethiopia with an overnight stay in Dubai.

The flight between DFW and Dubai is long – 14 ½ hours going and 16 hours returning.  Yet, the Airbus offered a great movie selection and a surprising amount of room, even in the economy section.  Plentiful bathrooms with soft lighting, adjustable water temperature, wood trim and faux marble countertops were available.  Food menus offered Middle East and western choices.  Emirates Airlines has a force of 13,000 international attendants, all living in Dubai.  Only about 300 are Americans.  On the flight going, we had representatives from twelve countries, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Singapore and Australia.  This diffusion of work among “foreigners” would be typical of everywhere we went in Dubai. 

Thanks to our American passports, customs at the Dubai airport was almost a wave through, requiring only a photo of our iris to be taken.  The taxi driver to our hotel was Pakistani, as were the rest of our drivers.  Another taxi ride took us to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, opened in 2010.  It is located in the Dubai Mall built in 2008.  To make our 4:30 appointment, we had to hurry through the huge shopping arena filled with familiar stores such as The Pottery Barn, Gap and Banana Republic.  Yet, scores of gold stores and Arabic women’s clothing offerings confirmed our presence in one of the Arabian world’s great shopping cities.

The crowd going up the Burj Khalifa was a mix of foreigners, mostly independent travelers.  The only tour I saw was of Chinese.  A smooth one minute elevator ride ascended, gently stopping at the 124th floor.  Viewing was available inside and out.  The best weather in Dubai begins in October with clear skies.  Unfortunately, our September visit was still during days of dust storms.  Visibility was adequate for about two miles, allowing us to take in the wonder of Dubai architecture but not the famous Palm Islands built into the Persian Gulf.  In the distant, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel, appeared to be sailing through the dust. 

Telescopes were available for real time viewing but also revealed the land before development – a scant 10 to 15 years ago.  Until 2004, when Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum decided to make his country into a business showpiece, the barren desert reached up to the shores.  Since then, constructions cranes can hardly keep up with the building.  At one point, Dubai had one-fourth of the world’s cranes working on its development.  Despite the added hotels, the average price is still $300 per night, going as high as $1600 for a night at the Burj Al Arab.

Our glasses fogged up from the heat when we stepped onto the balcony area of the Khalifa.  Selfies dominated as visitors of all ages and colors wanted photos of their faces silhouetted against building tops and hazy sky.  Narrow windows were available for those who wanted to slip cameras through and take pictures without glare of the glass.   Upon return to earth, we heard a call to prayer in the mall but without many apparent takers. 

Our next Pakistani taxi driver provided inside information on living in Dubai.  Workers from different countries self-segregate in housing and even in sending their children to schools with their own teachers.  They won’t combine into a public school , he said, as religion must be taught there.   Most Pakistani workers are men and don’t have family in Dubai because of the expense. The population of the United Arab Emirates is about three million native born and six million foreigners.

We arrived at the Dubai Museum in the tiny historical area that has been preserved.  Located in the oldest building in town, the fort museum is well done and takes you from Bedoin tents to modern architecture.  A video documented changes in the city by decades.  And a display of 3,000 year old pottery found in the area confirmed the location’s long history of trade.  A free Koran was given at the museum’s exit.

We had hoped to make the gold souk but lack of sleep caught up with us.  Instead, we walked the streets near our hotel, filled with gold stores, each store filled with buyers.  Dubai was an early trading center for jewels beginning with pearls but now gold dominates.  Prices were by the ounce but we weren’t in the market – at least not that night.  But it had been a beautiful introduction to Dubai’s offerings and maybe there will be another chance, especially if Emirates Airlines stays competitive.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Celebrating Meskel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with young Rotarians

Bonfire built in center of Meskel Square

In Ethiopia, the word meskel has a triple meaning.  It refers to a beautiful yellow daisy that blooms in September.    Flying into Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, fields of the golden flowers were visible from the air.  On a spiritual level, meskel means cross in Ge’ez, the ancient language of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.  The final understanding of Meskel is the festival held in September to celebrate the finding of the true cross in the fourth century AD by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine, First Christian Roman Emperor. Tradition holds smoke from a bonfire in Jerusalem led Helena to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified.  Parts of this cross are claimed in churches throughout Europe and Ethiopia’s remnants are kept in the Gishen Mariam monastery to the north of Addis.

Priests and Deacons enter Meskel Square with choirs
We knew our last day in Ethiopia coincided with the Meskel Holiday.   It is celebrated throughout the country but in Addis Ababa, the large Meskel amphitheater shaped square fills each year with half a million devotees who await the setting of the sun when candles are lit and a bonfire or demera ignited.  Atop the giant pyre are meskel flowers and inside a cross will burn.  The direction of its collapse brings various predictions for the year.  Most tourists watch the festivities from specially built stands but thanks to a fun group of young Rotarians, our experience was standing for three hours in the back of the square, surrounded by Ethiopians of 
various hues but of the same ilk.

Tina Langham Smith with Hiruy Zemichael and Semeone Tegegne and other
members of
newest Rotary Club in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Hiruy Zemichael and  Semeone Tegegne picked us up at 3 p.m.  They are members of the newest Rotary Club in Addis, one of ten in the city.  Their club is bilingual, meaning they will conduct the meeting in English if there are any visitors.  I was sure they had studied abroad as their conversation made easy reference to American colloquial expressions such as “what’s happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” and they could express dismay at the idea of a Donald Trump presidency.  I was assured their fluency resulted from hours of watching American movies, comedians and reading English books and newspapers. 

Through the evening more Rotarians joined us including Ruth Dressiegn, who had just returned from New York where she spoke to a UN committee on the need for more youth to be involved in the sustainability project currently being considered.  Another young woman, Rahel Getachew, will travel to the U.S. soon to represent all of Africa’s Rotaryact clubs.  The club members were all educated, working in technical fields as well as social services.  And, all wanted us to understand the Meskel event and its significance for the country.

Prelates of the Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Church with
Dr. Mulatu Teshome, president of Ethiopia
Streets closings made easy walking as we approached the square and candles were distributed. The square had almost filled even though we arrived an hour early.  A large military presence watched from strategic points as fire trucks and ambulances awaited the call. Large open space in the middle would later welcome bands, church choirs, veterans, and rows of priests and deacons.  A large central viewing platform held an impressive array of dignitaries - Abune Mathias, 6th Prelate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Teodros II, 118th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt, and Dr. Mulatu Teshome, president of Ethiopia.

Through the darkening late afternoon, waves of chanting, swaying, dancing choirs passed in front of the stage.  Floats reflected the story of Queen Helena’s discovery of the true cross.  Those with hearing disability performed their sign language.  Occasionally, the crowd sang and clapped along with well-known chants.  And, a marching band complete with tubas and brass melded into the big parade.  It was a beautiful blend of a mass at St. Peter’s square in Rome and Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

Since I couldn’t see easily over the crowd, I relied on photos and movies taken by Semeone to enjoy the details below.  I could hear the Patriarchs and President talking.  Amazingly, their speeches were translated into English.  President Teshome talked of Egypt and Ethiopia being joined by the Nile River.  The Ethiopian Patriarch spoke of love between the orthodox communities.  There was even mention of climate change and separation of church and state. 

In the early evening dark, our candles were lit from neighbor to neighbor, a process that began at one end of the square and swept across the crowd like a moon rising.  Patriarch Mathias slowly walked to the bonfire, circled and lit it, creating an immediate heart of flames amongst us.  For the moment, all were united in its light.

The spell was broken as our Rotary friends protected us from the large crowd exiting.  On the walk back, they described the meal their extended families would share the next day with traditional food and how all would dress in white.  Their homes would have small bonfires as would most hotels and restaurants.  One suggested it was similar to our Thanksgiving Day gatherings.  

The Meskel celebration is one of Ethiopia’s finest.  We were lucky to join this 1600 year old tradition, guided by a new generation of Ethiopians.  It was a wonderful fusion of old and new and Ethiopia should be proud of both.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Encountering Modern Day Diasporas in My Travels

Our Palestinian/Jordanian guide on the right who carried a key to
his home in Israel around his neck

The Greek word, diaspora, means a scattering and is used to describe the movement of a population from its original homeland.  Today, the word implies an added layer of meaning of a people being expelled or forced out involuntarily from their native country with a hope or desire to return someday.   Truthfully, I had always associated the word with the Jewish people but in my travels and research, I have encountered it in other countries including Cuba, Ethiopia and with the Palestinians.

Hundreds of years ago, the Jewish tribes experienced just such a dispersion beginning with the Assyrian exile from the Kingdom of Israel in 733 BCE.   The Romans had no tolerance for their insurrection and expelled them in 70 AD and again in 135 AD.   By 500 AD, there were Jewish settlements as far north as Cologne, Germany and across to Babylon (modern day Iraq).  Only after World War II did this expansion of settlements contract with the establishment of Israel in 1949.  Today, all members of the Jewish Diaspora (spelled with a capital D) have the right to return to Israel and be a citizen. Millions have claimed this right. Their history is so important to Israel that the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv is known as the Diaspora Museum and details this story.
As the Jewish community returned to Israel, Palestinians suffered their own diaspora during and after the 1948 War of Independence for Israel.  800,000 Palestinians left in fear of the fighting but with the hope of returning.  Jordan took in the greatest number and today has over 3 million Palestinians living in its border.  Our driver in Jordan was Palestinian.  Around his neck, he carried the key to his family home in Israel.   When his family fled to escape the fighting, they were not allowed to return.  He became very animated when we touched on the subject of the partition of Israel, wondering why some land couldn’t be set aside for the Palestinian people.  Some Palestinians still live in refugee camps in Lebanon and millions more are scattered throughout the world including a quarter million in the United States and 500,000 in Chile.

The word for diaspora in Spanish is spelled the same as English with only an accent added over the first letter a.  I didn’t expect to encounter it when we traveled to Cuba but I heard it several times. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, over a million Cubans left, most with the thought this government wouldn’t last long.  The great majority fled to South Florida and remain today, making up one-third of the population of Miami.  The night before we left for Cuba, we ate dinner in “Little Havana” in Miami, getting a taste of the great food we were to have on the island.

From our various taxi drivers in Cuba, to the five doormen at our hotel, our guides, and communicants of the small Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz del Norte, we heard story after story of family members who lived in Miami – those who had escaped in time.    One man described the departure of all of his siblings but he remained to care for their elderly mother.  Another was forced into the military and couldn’t leave although his brother did.  With the opening of Cuba to its diasporan members, it will be interesting to see if that initial desire to return remains.

In 1974, Haile Selassie was forced out of power by the military.  As the new government consolidated control, many Ethiopians were forced to leave. Two of those were Tewabech and Mac MeKonnen who lived in Paris for 20 years.  When we recently had dinner with them, they used the word “diaspora” to describe all the Ethiopians who left at that time.  There are 50,000 Ethiopians living in Dallas alone. And, when I learned my taxi driver in Atlanta, Georgia was from Ethiopia, I told her I was going there soon.  She and her husband had also escaped Ethiopia and made a home in Atlanta but wanted to return.  Her husband was making plans to start a business there and they hoped to emigrate back soon.  

Anytime a government changes violently, the ensuing chaos assures an exodus of citizens fearing for their lives.  The story of the Syrian diaspora is, sadly, about to begin.  With widespread transportation, the scattering will extend around the world as more countries take in the dispossessed.  If other modern day diasporas are examples, it may be a while before they return.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Homes of Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty Reveal Shared Qualities

Inside Ernest Hemingway's Home in Havana, Cuba
American writers Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty never met although they were contemporaries.  Hemingway was only ten years older and lived a dashing and frantic life for 62 years with homes and wives around the world. Until her death at 92 years, Welty never married and remained in the home where she was raised.  Yet, they shared some surprising habits as evidenced by tours of their homes in Havana, Cuba and Jackson, Mississippi.

Hemingway spent his winters at Finca Vigia, fifteen miles east of Havana, where he wrote  “The Old Man and the Sea” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.  Our taxi driver knew exactly where to go.  As we approached the residence through a tropical forest of flamboyan trees, urban noises diminished. Perched on a hill with Havana in the distance, the house’s open design allows a constant breeze to cool the island’s high humidity.  Cuba confiscated the property in 1961 even though Hemingway was on good terms with Fidel Castro.  The home has been a major tourist attraction for over 50 years. 

Hemingway's Boat, Pilar in dry drock
Visitors are not allowed inside the home but from the large windows and doorways, it’s easy to view Hemingway’s art collection, including bullfighting paintings and posters,  mounted gazelle and antelope trophies, and his portrait with a downed African leopard. The furniture appears comfortable and well-worn. The typewriter resides in the bedroom, chest high on a bookcase where Hemingway wrote standing up. Outside, his fishing rods rest upright in a rod holder, ready for use

while the famous boat, Pilar, hangs in dry dock.  We expected him to walk out anytime on his way to the sea.

View of neighborhood from Eudroa Welty's home
Eudora Welty’s home is maintained as if she had just run to the grocery store.  This was easy to do since Ms. Welty lived in the home until her death in 2001.  She had already given her residence intact to the State of Mississippi in 1985.  Located across the street from Belhaven College and in a well kept neighborhood, this historic site is hard to pick out from the neighbors.  Inside, rooms are cozy with a feel of your grandmother’s house.  All of her books were written on a favorite typewriter in the upstairs bedroom.  Spread across the dining room table, though, are white sheets of paper with cut paragraphs pasted on them – the model for our current computer’s “cut and paste” feature. 

Hemingway's bedroom with typewriter elevated for his
stand-up composition style
Hemingway and Welty shared a love of books – 8000 for him and 5000 for her.  In Welty’s home, books were literally everywhere – on sofas, tables, bookshelves, and beds.  Friends would have to move books from chairs in order to sit.  From descriptions of visitors to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s books were equally scattered in his day, including large art books placed in a chair to support his ailing back.  Today, his literary collection is neatly stored in bookshelves in almost every room.  Welty must have been a fan of his as she had several Hemingway biographies in her collection.

Books scattered everywhere in
Eudora Welty's home
Both writers had literary friends.  Welty’s included our country’s best Southern writers – William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Walker Percy, Flannary O’Connor.  In her home, a letter from British writer, E M Forester, reflects her correspondence with those she admired.  Hemingway’s list drew from his time in Paris where he joined the elite artist crowd around Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and even F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Few of his old friends joined Ernest in Cuba but those who did were treated to his martinis and Cuban rum drinks.  At his home, Hemingway’s liquor bottles remain on a tray, some still open.  On the grounds today, fresh pineapple is crushed into juice and used to make daiquiris for sale to tourists.  Eudora also partook occasionally of her favorite bourbon, Makers Mark, stored in an open cabinet near the kitchen.  She felt it kept the conversation flowing with friends and enhanced her Christmas eggnog.

Welty and Hemingway began as journalists, a position that taught Hemingway his famous style of writing – short sentences and active verbs.  Welty’s experience as a WPA photographer sharpened her observational abilities which she used extensively in her writing.  Their writing styles are both considered descendants of Mark Twain’s straight forward storytelling.   Each won Pulitzer Prizes (hers for “The Optimist’s Daughter and his “The Old Man and the Sea” and Hemingway the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.  In his home, telegrams of congratulations from Cuban friends, ministers and writers are displayed. Eudora had stored her Pulitzer downstairs.

I can only surmise that Welty and Hemingway would have enjoyed each other’s company.  Both loved to talk.  It’s fun to imagine their conversation – full of literary allusions, liberal causes, travel stories and fueled by a drink or two.  Visiting their homes makes that image possible.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Touring The World of Coca-Cola and CNN in Atlanta, Georgia

Corporate headquarter tours are not usually high on my list of “Things to Do” in a new location.  However, Atlanta, Georgia is home to two companies that have an enormous international presence.  I run into them all over the world and wanted to learn more of their “stories”. 

It’s hard to know what to call “The World of Coca Cola” - a strange blend of a museum, theme park, and tasting room.   Lines are long to visit its newest home, opened in Centennial Park in 2007. Thanks to Coke’s long history of advertising, the venue played on nostalgia by displaying old bottles, posters and ads.    Inside, the first movie shown to all visitors was a longer take of the feel good message shown before most films in theaters.  A room of past promotions documented changing drink habits.  An ad from the 1950s suggested 16 oz of Coca Cola should serve three people.  Today, that is a standard size drink for an individual – possibly one source of our obesity problem.

Cheesiest by far was the dramatic revealing through a smoke screen and flashing lights of the vault containing Coke’s secret formula. No mention was made of the cocaine content in the original recipe nor the move to high fructose corn syrup.  One section contained  hate mail received by the company in 1985 when it tried to change the formula to New Coke, a move that lasted only 79 days before Classic Coke was returned to the shelves.

A highlight for most visitors is the free tasting section with coke products from around the world.  Over 100 dispensers provided  coke, lime, orange and root beer drinks made by subsidiaries, representing a small portion of the 3500 beverages sold by the company.  A new Coca Cola had just debuted, using sugar again rather than corn syrup and will be sold in an environmentally friendly green can.  Truthfully, we couldn’t discern a notable difference.

The most interesting section displayed personal reflections of “My Favorite Coca-Cola Moment” – sharing a coke with a child at summer baseball games, father working in a factory and returning home with a coke, finding a Coca Cola offered in the wilds of Africa.  The last story spoke to my experiences.  Since Coca-Cola is offered in every country in the world except Cuba and North Korea,  I’ve seen its ads everywhere I’ve traveled.  My husband’s favorite story is the gentle tug-of-war with his sister-in-law in Tikal, Guatemala in 1975 over the last cold Coca Cola at the restaurant.  Before the pervasive availability of bottled water, I drank Coke regularly in developing countries.  It’s always a taste of home and a reminder of American industry.

Also in Atlanta is the headquarters of CNN, first TV channel to provide 24 hour news service and another company with strong international presence.  On the tour, the guide emphasized its growth from 1.2 million viewers in 1980 to over 2 billion today worldwide.  In 1985, CNN International began and is now in over 200 countries.  Thanks to satellites and its programming, I have checked Dallas weather from Vienna, Austria, watched U.S. election returns in Cairo, Egypt,  and obtained basketball scores while recovering in a hospital in Tegulcigalpa, Honduras.  In a small, windowless hotel room near the bus station in Pnohm Penh, Cambodia,  a report on American oil prices on CNN brought familiarity into a foreign world.  It was there before wifi and is more available even today. 

No programs were in action on our visit but studios, research desks, and a demonstration weather map were available for viewing.  We learned meterologists can wear an invisibility cloak to blend into the map.  Teleprompters carry 150 -175 words per minute of script.  All writing must be approved which can take 8 hours or 5 minutes depending on how fast the news is breaking. 

In the news room, scores of screens flashed competitor’s news as well as headline news of CNN (HLN).  Some screens reflected a stationary camera that continually films one location such as Tahir Square in Cairo where action can form quickly.  Several writers were eating lunch at their desk and one clever employee had his tweet handle displayed on his desk for tourists looking down on the news room.  Since most of the weekly news programs are filmed in New York City, I had little chance of encountering my favorites,  Anderson Cooper or Anthony Bordain.
With 35 bureaus around the world, CNN takes its newsgathering seriously.  Through CNN International, HLN, CNN Espanol, and CNN Domestic, most of the world can watch developing news.  Networks have also been established for Airports and for individual countries including Turkey, India, Japan, Chile, and the Phillipines.  It’s no wonder I keep running into it.

For investors who want international presence without foreign stocks, both Coca-Cola and CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, provide this.  Coke is 4th on the list of World’s Most Valuable Brands and the only one in the top 5 that is not a tech company.  I’m not recommending investments!  But I am proud that these two companies compete well internationally, providing me and millions of traveling Americans a familiar experience.

World of Coca Cola website

Web site for Tour of CNN in Atlanta, Ga.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Exploring the Civil Rights Movement in the South - 2015

Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma Alabama

This is the third of a three part series on a road trip through the South where we explored the three Cs – Civil War, Civil Rights, and Southern Charm.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s gave meaning to rights won 100 years before in the Civil War.  Despite passage of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the 1860’s to abolish slavery and to prohibit state laws limiting the rights of citizens, Southern states managed to bring back white privileges to the detriment of black citizens.  Until the civil rights movement gained momentum, African Americans in Paris were segregated in schools, restrooms, water fountains, and couldn’t even eat in the restaurant inside the Kress department store downtown.  The energy and grit behind the movement ignited in the heart of Dixie and no tour of the South is complete without visiting some of the pivotal sites where individuals bravely resisted inequality under the law.

Thanks to the movie, “Selma”, the effort to walk from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965 to protest voting rights limitations on blacks has been documented.  The 50th commemoration of this event had just been celebrated this spring and memorabilia was still available for purchase.  Together with a small group of school children and an African American couple, we walked slowly over the Alabama river on the Edmund Pettus bridge, ironically named after a Confederate officer who fought at Vicksburg .  It was only made a National Historic Landmark in 2013 and seemed to best illustrate the road to equal rights is won one step at a time. 

Montgomery, Alabama surprised us.  Despite having only one commemorative sign as recently as 2000, the city has now embraced both its civil war and civil rights past.  Standing placards document events such as the telegram that started the War Between the States and another where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to boarding whites in 1955.  At the Rosa Parks Museum, an imaginary ride in a life size bus gives minute to minute details of Ms. Parks’ confrontation with state laws.  Bus drivers at the time were quite powerful and could wear guns.  A black often had to pay his fare, walk outside the bus to the back door, and pray the driver didn’t depart and leave him stranded.  Parks’ arrest led to the year-long Montgomery bus boycott directed by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inside Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama
Dr. King’s involvement in the Boycott was fortuitous.  At age 26, he was pastor of the prestigious Dexter Avenue Baptist church, where many of Montgomery’s black lawyers, physicians and teachers attended.  Thanks to the presence of Union soldiers after the Civil War, the church was able to get title to this prime land just three blocks down Dexter Avenue from the state capitol.  Previous pastor, Vernon Johns, had been a fierce opponent of segregation, meaning the congregation was prepped for action. Dr. King held tight to his pacifist views but was also determined to see the boycott through. 

At the Dexter Church, our tour guide, Reba, brought back the spirit of the times.  We began the tour singing “This Little Light of Mine” and ended it encircled, holding hands with “We Shall Overcome”.  In between, Reba helped us understand how young Dr. King was when he arrived (25), how cars were purchased and used by churches to transport black employees to their work, and even the appearance at the church of former Governor George Wallace in 1979 who apologized for the pain he caused during his tenure.  Truthfully, it was thrilling to stand at the pulpit and imagine a full house awaiting inspiration from Dr. King.  The church still is active but worried about the aging of its congregation.  

Civil Rights Memorial by Maya Lin
An institution I have long admired is also headquartered here.  The Southern Poverty Law Center directed much of the litigation needed to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act and still pursues cases when needed.  Across the street, the Center commissioned a Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The fountain, shaped as an inverted cone, provides a poignant timeline of events from the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision to MLK’s assassination. 

The greatest testament to the Civil Rights Movement on our trip was the numbers of African Americans in all strata of Southern life - businessmen in Atlanta, hotel receptionists in Kennesaw, Georgia, bus drivers in Montgomery, TV cameramen at CNN’s headquarters, teachers leading classes of school children on field trips, diners in upscale restaurants and tourists themselves.   We stopped for dinner in Meridian, Mississippi where three northern civil rights volunteers were killed by Klansman in 1964.  What we found in 2015 was a Thai restaurant filled with whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. 

The Civil Rights struggle will  never be finished.  Moslems, gays, and immigrants face some of the same hatred and fears suffered by African Americans.  But a trip through the South gives perspective as well as hope and encouragement.  

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